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The High-Low $20 Showdown

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What the high-end chef made …

Chef Olivier Muller of DB Bistro Moderne
Waiting for my lunch, I sip iced tea, admiring the vintage wine bottles aligned on DB’s wall. Muller, dressed in a crisp, white, monogrammed uniform, brings the first course, a tarte flambée (“flammenkueche”) served on a butcher block and cut in neat squares. It’s a real restaurant-quality item (light crispy crust, smoky bacon, the slight creaminess of fromage blanc). It’s so good it makes you wonder why it’s so damned cheap. Answer: Tarte flambée is the pizza of the chef’s native Alsace; only in midtown Manhattan is this simple dish peddled as haute cuisine. The arugula salad is professionally made, too, and so is Muller’s Moroccan couscous, the contents of which (couscous, braised lamb, a roast chicken leg from Fairway, and a single store-bought D’Artagnan merguez sausage) come together nicely in a gently simmered stew tasting of harissa and mint. Would a DB diner complain if he were served this dish? Nope. How much would DB charge for it? According to Muller, $30 or $35, which makes us pity the poor saps who pay full freight. But then this is a full-fledged haute cuisine machine. While Harry throws his ingredients onto the grill, hours of labor have gone into these dishes. The rhubarb in the rhubarb tart has been boiled down and left to intensify overnight, and sits in a sweet, hand-rolled crust capped with warm, freshly made meringue. Is it good? Yes, it is. Is it really cheap eats? In the cost of ingredients only.

Verdict: One star for the tarte flambée, one star for the lamb couscous, and one star for the rhubarb tart. It might be cheap, but it doesn’t taste that way.


(Pretty Damn Good)
Total cost: $17.74


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